Here in New York, one cannot go a day without hearing exclamations of obsession: “I’m obsessed with Pinkberry”; “Are you not obsessed by your puppy?”; “We’ve been a little bit obsessed with Homeland this week”; “My new obsession with peplum skirts”.
Of course, it’s just linguistic play and hyperbole – a fresher, quirkier, more expressive phrase than ‘I love such-and-such’ – but it’s curious that a word associated with psychiatric disorder has entered such everyday conversations. Have we all just decided that it’s a good thing to show ourselves off as a little bit wacko?
Maybe, maybe not.
Obsessions are not always malign things….and how fascinating they are! From collections of shoes, to popstar fan dedication, to food blogs, to the building of Silicon Valley empires – each one tells a story of endeavor, discovery, creativity, allegiance.
And that is the point about obsessions. For all their apparent craziness, underneath it all they are a powerful demonstration of our humanness. Our ability to think for ourselves, to love, to be different, to be committed. To not be cowed by the machine. To claim the right to behave irrationally and even incomprehensibly.
Right now, claiming humanity for ourselves feels vitally important. In many parts of the world, people are frustrated by their financial and political institutions’ inability to deal with their needs. In other regions, people are forging ahead with new regimes and growth plans. Our online worlds have exploded in size. All this can make us feel powerless, and just downright tired. The assertion of desires and passions beyond reason re-invigorates as individuals, and sends a message to the world: my life is more than just a study in behavioral economics.
We can see this too, in people’s interactions with brands, advertising and other marketing experiences. Alongside ongoing consumer savviness and sensitivity to ‘the bottom line’, we are witnessing a heartfelt desire to return to something that goes back to the primal nature of brands.
It’s a simple desire to be charmed by personality and vision. An eagerness for stories about dedication and imagination (are brands just as obsessive as we are?). An appetite for feeling part of a brand or social movement.
This passion is something that lives outside the current popular discourse of choice – whether we are talking rational or irrational decisions. To be obsessed is to live beyond the boundaries of being able to choose.
The fact that our ‘obsession with obsessions’ may be just a veneer we are wearing rather than true disorder is beside the point. It’s a sign that people want to shift focus from the ‘act of will’ (an engaged choice of buying one thing over another) to an ‘act of fate’ (feeling compelled to do so). It’s a Weberian response to a world that currently feels too lacking in meaning and magic. People don’t want to choose a brand, they want to feel bound to one – whether for a fleeting moment or a lifetime.
This edition of FYI explores the various ways that such bindings take shape: whether from individual to crowd; from consumer to brand; or from brand to consumer. Welcome to the world of obsession.
Annie Auerbach (London)
Dee de Lara (New York)
Johanna Funnell (New York)
John Wise (New York)
Elly Chiu (Singapore)
Calin Chua (Singapore)
Andy Connor (Tokyo)
Dee de Lara (New York)
Joey Dembs (Shanghai)
Ananda Eidelstein (New York)
Gareth Evans (London)
Michelle Katz (New York)
Anthony Leung (New York)
Heng Lu (Shanghai)
Sven Palys (Tokyo)
Zach Safford (New York)
Michelle Santanocita (New York)
Jo Shaw (London)
Scott Teng (Singapore)
Vincent Verdier (London)
Abbie Wilson (London)
Keyue Yan (Shanghai)
WEBSITE DESIGN AND PRODUCTION
“There was a few people that was on the ground. I jumped over them and just kept running.” Shopper at Lafayette Square Mall, Indianapolis, December 2011
“I don’t remember anything like this in the recent past at all, definitely not with the iPhone or anything like that.” Linda Jackson, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police
‘Where shopping comes to life!’ Lafayette Square slogan
As a species, we’ve long sought something greater than ourselves. Something bigger, longer lasting, more powerful. Something with control over destiny – that can release us from the challenge and the uncertainty of day-to-day life.
It’s probably rooted in prehistory.
As the human race evolved it’s easy to imagine the emergence of a consciousness of just how frightening and dangerous the world was. Ill equipped to fight the ravages of season, disease, or predators, mankind struggled for thousands of years with tools which, whilst gradually improving, were rarely sufficient to guarantee it what it needed most – security and a future. For millennia, nothing within the human race’s power could offer an answer to the one question that troubled it most, the question which could decide whether what was done today had any deeper meaning or effect at all, or was simply futile and pointless. The question was, and still is, ‘What will happen tomorrow?’
The struggle to control the environment, to secure the future, to create some predictability within existence, met with a range of responses. Habitations were created which offered warmth and security. Animals were tamed, crops cultivated, to provide food for not simply now, but the future. Tools were developed to shape surroundings and improve life quality. Cultural and family structures emerged to give society a sense of identity, of a past and, critically, a future. And yet, the unpredictability remained. The flood, the drought, the earthquake could destroy it all in moments. And then there was the ultimate uncertainty – death. For all the plans human beings made, death loomed everywhere…
Enter the Shamans
We needed something more. And more emerged in the men (and occasionally women) who began to claim foresight, even power, over the future. The medicine men, the priests, the healers, who claimed to offer us connection with a greater, supernatural force that they alone could interpret. Speaking to a gap left open by man’s incapacity to control the future, these were the figures with the knowledge, having a dialogue with the unknown.
The veneration of these figures didn’t take long to get established. They claimed, and were given, authority over something so unique, something that spoke to a need so profound, that they were soon offered a place in society apart. Such was the drive of the species to hold to the hope that someone, somewhere, somehow could predict the future, even manage it, that the troublesome notion of empirical ‘proof’ (a concept of surprisingly recent history) rarely got in the way.
Thus was born the Oracle, the Temple, the Church. And with it the tradition of allowing these gifted individuals the opportunity to be separate, given space to channel the divine. Encouraged to devote – for society’s good – their lives to understand the meaning of it all, they often lived as ascetics, celibates, as monks or hermits. These individuals were, and remain, present in every culture, often living austere lives. Sometimes eccentric or unsocialised, they were supported by their own beliefs, quests or certainties – perhaps relying upon their community for physical support. And untouched by the mundane preoccupations of day-to-day survival, they lived on their beliefs. They focused.
Their ability to do so, to achieve a ‘higher state’, was something at which their co-citizens looked with awe. These were The Obsessed. The word itself derives from 16th century Latin ‘obsessio’ – to put under siege. These were the figures who put the meaning of life, and death, under siege each day.
Thus was born the language and practice of ‘devotion’ (another word for obsession) with spiritual practices emerging that had huge cultural significance. They were always single minded (from Catholic Liturgy, to the Haj Pilgrimage, to Buddhist devotional chanting), and they always set aside the distractions of the noisy, temporal world to allow a focus on ‘the bigger’ and ‘the deeper’…
As these figures became our Teachers, Gurus, Priests, they were glimpsed by us only occasionally - on holy days or during religious rites. The masses came to venerate them, longing for a piece of their divinity, their knowledge, their transcendence. Devotional practices emerged, ceremonies into which the believer could be invited, ritual he or she could learn. Pilgrimages began the places where they guarded their wisdom. And in the shared practice of this homage, those who joined together in their longing found connection with each other, a common human bond, in the joint desire to be part of all this – to be close to the Master and learn what he had learned.
For all of us outside the monastery, approaching the representative of the divine allowed us to put aside our daily lives, to forget our differences and our struggle in our coming together in this shared journey. And thus was born a craving.
Cut to Indianapolis, December 23, 2011…
Michael Jordan. NBA player. Icon. God.
Crowds queue in the early morning waiting for the arrival of Nike’s Air Jordan XI Concords. As 7am approaches, they surge, and break down the doors of a shopping mall. People are trampled, others behind them step over.
Everyone needs to have a pair of these shoes.
There is desperation in the air, a need to avoid the isolation of failure, of being the one without, unable to share in the joint experience. Everyone needs to touch the guru – Michael Jordan – figuratively at least – or touch something he has touched. Something he has named. Something he has given his blessing?
Or religious pilgrimage?
The veneration shown to the Air Jordan brand – named after a man whose following on the basketball court approached almost religious proportions, a man whose abilities seemed almost superhuman - echoes something deeper, older, in the human psyche.
The drive to venerate, to come close to, a man devoted to his cause. A man obsessed.
Nike is of course, by no means unique in tapping the primal fascination we have with obsession. Brands are fond of flirting with the territory – seeking to locate themselves within a compulsion that is present in all human cultures.
In so doing, the language and symbolism they borrow is uncannily recognisable from centuries past, its roots obvious. It doesn’t take long to lay bare some of the ‘models’ adopted by the modern day marketing discourse.
At least four emerge, sometimes overlapping:
1. ‘Brand as hermit’
This is the brand – or spokesperson for the brand – that’s ‘locked away’, the recluse devoted to the task. We as onlookers are invited to stand in awe of its dedication, invited to want a piece, to draw ourselves close to this brand that, in our muddled world, is fully focused on its priorities. It has achieved a clarity in its beliefs that can allow it to ignore all else.
As our Priests and Monks did.
And we yearn for that clarity.
Many brands have spoken in these terms over the years, and they’re not hard to find. The ‘simplicity’ of the brand’s ‘life’ is often a powerful theme, as Jack Daniels and Volkswagen illustrate in their different ways…
Meanwhile cycling brand Rapha makes overt the price of obsession; the pain of dedication…the language of religion here made explicit.
2. ‘Brand as compelling psychotic’
Alongside the hermit – sometimes one and the same – comes the psychotic. Brands have periodically flirted with the mysticism and the danger of obsession. The abandonment of self, loss of control and the giving over of personal agency to a higher power, plays loud in this discourse. Narcotic references abound – as this narrative brings forward the ‘disconnected genius’. The brand here has found a secret; it invites you, tantalisingly, to surrender to that secret, holding out the promise of explanation only if you do so.
Calvin Klein – a business founded in New York the year Hendrix was on the radio and ‘Hair’ opened a few blocks away on Broadway – has long experimented with this space, from the mannered, almost ritualized – in a setting that even resembles a Greek temple…
…to a more animalist, sexualized language – informed by a raw, verite almost naive filmic style…
Nor has Calvin Klein been afraid to climb into a space too dangerous for US networks, as witnessed by this banned commercial of 2009:
Other brands – often in clothing, perfume or skincare (markets where human beings’ innate self-focus means obsession can chime loudly) have explored this territory too…from the overtly mystic…
…to the bluntly direct…
Sometimes brands have borrowed explicitly from drug culture (and its music) to suggest an inner, hidden, knowledge – decorated with a symbolism the uninitiated is invited to interpret, but never can:
The mesmeric attraction of this ‘mythic’ invitation can create a powerful magnetism in the music business too – and a powerful branding mechanism – a fact powerfully understood most recently by Lady Gaga…
Whilst this narrative often beguilingly leaves the viewer outside the metaphorical temple doors, longing to enter, occasionally the brand allows its user in, offering a glimpse of the transformative nature of the experience. Yet even in this Indian Xylys commercial, the story remains unresolved…
3. ‘Brand on a Quest’
Whilst brand as hermit or psychotic are principally introspective tropes, this well-used advertising narrative looks out – imbuing the brand with a heroic character as it travels on a quasi-Arthurian ‘journey’ in search of a transcendent goal – usually quality. Meeting with adversity is an important feature of this discourse, and stories sometimes involve hardships en route or other demonstrations of the brand’s stoic determination. A sacrifice of the worldly and capacity for endurance is important here.
Del Monte for many years communicated in these terms. Note the quasi mystic, inhospitable desert setting in this execution, the brand venerated as a rare visitor – much as a Priest might be – dressed anachronistically and idiosyncratically – the ‘test’ it imposes on the grower:
In the 1990s, UK grocery retailer Tesco needed to build its brand value after detecting serious weaknesses in perceptions of the quality of its food – especially fresh produce. It turned to an ‘obsession’ device, and launched a highly successful ‘brand quest’ campaign. The use of Dudley Moore gave the narrative an important informality and accessibility. Many recognizable elements are here – note particularly how the brand (i.e. Dudley) is continually made to ‘suffer’ (albeit comedically). He – and Tesco – must endure the struggle if they are to achieve the goal…
The ‘quest’ approach is prominent, with varying degrees of plausibility, across many markets. Mercedes, in its line ‘The Best or Nothing’ lays bare its obsessive commitment with modest yet powerful understatement (the line is barely visible beneath the logo) – demonstrating that the story of the quest doesn’t always have to be explicit. This brings forward another familiar trope – the invitation to the viewer to find meaning in the brand, rather than the brand making its meaning loud or obvious…
Elsewhere brands occasionally invite the user into the quest him or herself, and user becomes brand spokesperson.
The ‘quest’ narrative has lately become something of an advertising cliché, debased by implausible stories and increasingly knowing audiences. Here Coors Light in the UK parodies it…
4. ‘Immortal Brand’
Few brands can try and take on the mantle of immortality. It remains the ultimate gift of the shaman to offer the certainty that we will continue. Implicit within the discourse of the brands who try to occupy this space is a sense of such unswerving dedication and clarity of purpose that they will never die.
This is the territory – as it has been since the era when Pharaohs were buried with their riches – of the super premium. It often comes with a deeply embedded story of brand lineage. Patek Philippe routinely communicates via extended stories telling its history and heritage – creating a sense of dynasty. And whilst twenty first century Man, and Patek Philippe, accept that ‘you can’t take it with you’, the brand here suggests that a piece of you, can live on…
Approaching Obsession – Four Guiding Principles
Given the intense fascination with which society approaches the obsessed, often imbuing them with unspoken, even mystic, credibility, as they stand on the line between order and chaos, it’s unsurprising that many brands have explored the territory. Obsession roots us back into something powerful and old.
For a brand to operate effectively within this space, it needs to keep in mind four important themes
Upfront, and most profoundly, be careful with the emotions you inflame. The instincts that led customers to break into an Indianapolis mall run deep, the symbolic language can be powerful. The magic of the priest, relayed into the marketplace, retains with it an ability to drive people to yearn to belong, to want to reach you, and the place you have offered them. Young people on the streets of the US have been murdered for their sneakers – and no brand in the world wants to see violence – or worse – committed in its name.
Don’t imagine, if you play in the space of obsession, that you aren’t touching on emotions that could provoke deep-seated responses. If your brand is a shaman, you have a huge power and responsibility in your hands.
If your brand wishes to speak of its obsessive commitment to the delivery of a benefit – often quality (or a dimension of it) – that commitment must be honest and demonstrable. If your business is not committed to product delivery in support of a brand promise, your brand will fail. Just as the standards by which the priests lived were high, thus are the expectations of a buying public, which hears you talk in this way. A brand that tells the story of the simple, hermit-like life needs to live the hermit-like life. Nothing is more unconvincing than the narrative of personal obsession made implausible by the public knowledge of a vast multi-national, profit driven culture.
The story, essentially, needs underpinning. The quality of the product, and Michael Jordan’s career itself, take this role for Nike. The shoes are well made.
Tesco did radically improve the quality of its offer whilst its campaign appeared. The evidence of the belief system on display in communications was supported in store as the ads ran. The campaign helped put Tesco into the lead in the UK market.
And Mercedes remains unsurpassed in its class for build quality.
The apartness of the Obsessed remains a powerful symbol of his or her cachet, and so too for the brand which wishes to communicate in this space. We are fascinated by those who are driven by obsession because they seem not to be drawn into the distraction of the world. We are invited – if we wish – to travel to them.
The language of the mystic is not the language of the obvious. It requires of the viewer effort and commitment. Successful brands here invite their public to approach them, decode them. They hold out the promise of reward for doing so. Playing in this space means not revealing the answers but inviting their discovery. The benefit to the customer lies in meeting that challenge…as Lady Gaga knows.
A lack of confidence or plausibility will leave you ripe for satire. The themes in play touch on the profound. And even if you are full of self-belief, don’t be surprised if you attract parody – the ideas you are working with can create a sense of awkwardness in the viewer that leaves him or her looking for a vent, and that could be comedy. ‘Saturday Night Live’ famously parodied ‘Obsession’.
It did Calvin Klein no harm at all.
Jo Shaw is (mildly) obsessed by the thought of one day earning her living by writing poetry. On a more realistic level, she's also obsessed with creating the perfect chicken and mayo sandwich.
The concept of ‘new’ has taken over modern life.
Successive iPhone launches are perennially abuzz with stories that chronicle hour, day and week-long lines (complete with semi-professional line sitters!) to be the first to get it.
Across the globe, hundreds of bloggers dedicate days scouring the corners of the earth to showcase the latest [fill in the blank]. Moms hunting for the new must-have home product at the grocery store. Buyers stalking an item on ebay or flash-sale shops like Gilt. Travelers collecting the next stamp in their passport to post on Facebook. Fans awaiting the next coming of their chosen tech object.
This is about more than just the search for something new in particular, but the era of obsession about newness in general: where people will lay down their rational judgment in favor of the latest tidbit of celebrity gossip, product or even restaurant.
Looking at this from another angle, this fundamental part of our human wiring, openness, is influenced by the paradigm of technological and social change happening at the speed of Moore's Law.
Thus each successive technological leap mirrors a social one – where technology fuels physical and social change. Some as simple as the Blackberry glance – sneaking a peek downward at your Bberry during meetings – has morphed into tweet-speak entering everyday conversations. We are now trained to expect new not only from technological devices, but also newness in almost all facets of life. As the pace of change has quickened, even some of the most neo-phobic people have increased expectations for new products – from new food and drinks to customer service improvement. Taken to an extreme, the fixation on “newness” can look a lot like obsession.
To help the lowly individual, a host of intermediaries and approaches offer their spin on how to cope in this world of new normals.
A. “Curation and experts help you to keep up with the New better”
Some agents of change have attempted to provide structure and order to all the newness and act as arbiters of information, taste and even experience. These constructivist leanings with the need to organize view the hose of information as something to be tamed. Thus a new cycle of newness emerges and continues to fuel the rise of yet another layer of new and products businesses to help others to cope with managing the new for themselves. New is an object to be collected, acquired and utilized. Digital agents, like the site Springwise proffers “Your essential fix of entrepreneurial ideas” – a stream of new business ideas to assuage your new addiction. The curation Springwise provides gives you deeper insight into this world and helps you select the most relevant information.
B. “Forget cataloguing, find ways to negotiate New in real-time”
There are others that recognize the inutility of determination and organization within this system, thus they focus on ways for individuals to negotiate the chaos of the new in real-time for themselves. Here new becomes less of a unit, but more of a new way of living. Agents in this world offer tools, systems and means for individuals to negotiate this dynamic on their terms. Forward-thinking IKEA is including augmented reality functions into the 2013 furniture catalog so that you use their app “x-ray vision” to ogle your flat-pack furniture. IKEA shifts the dialogue from their new products to how it suits you.
C. “New has its place, but there are merits to the authentic”
The culture of the new has its shortcomings as well, new does not always satiate the soul, it can lack depth, it can fail to deliver on the promise or it can fail against the test of time. There are those for whom the stress on the new has brought out a yearning for the old, the authentic – coming through in fields as far as fashion, furniture and food. We see the rise of craft, antique and the trusted technique. For every new offering on the supermarket shelf, there is a locally produced pickle, beef jerky, jam and cookie offering being launched in Williamsburg, Portland, and Dallas. Those making handmade pickles from cucumbers grown from a local farm using traditional techniques feel a void left by overconsumption of new.
The New Horizon
As the fabric of our daily lives shifts on a micro-level and a macro-level, we find ourselves in the midst of a dialogue between the new and the old, the created and the fake. The lines between hard rules and beliefs are fuzzy, what comes through is the human story and connection that lives within as we collectively adapt and forge our own way. As we navigate this line between the new and the authentic in different aspects of our lives, we may move from the need to decipher this dynamic system to a greater emphasis on the human side of the system – with greater empathy and connection.
If you recognize some of yourself in this, you might find that we all might be obsessive.
Why does obsession matter? Unpacking the obsession with newness can tell you more about -
How this dynamic can provide direction in brand development – what is the difference between a new and a heritage brand?
How you can dig into the complexities of those that obsess – what do the obsessives do, what can you do to recruit obsessives?
What is the impact of new ideas on your business?
How does this dynamic help generate new ideas for products, services and experiences to grow your brand?
If you find yourself obsessed with the new, please call us.
Anthony Leung is obsessed with finding undiscovered restaurant gems in Brooklyn, real vintage furniture pieces and the latest anything.
IIn a fast-moving market like China, it is easier to be ‘out’ than to be ‘in’.
Still updating your status on the networking platform开心网 (kai xin wang)? Out. Weixin has taken over as the upcoming social media platform of choice.
Are you still talking about Hold-住姐 (Hold-zhu jie)? Out. ‘Sister Lawyer 律师姐’ (lv shi jie) and her policemen-slapping adventure is now one of the top search results on the search engine Baidu.
In your conversations, if you’re still using puns like 给力 (gei li which means support) or 雷人 (lei ren, meaning astonishing)…Out.
If you have not been using the emoticon/character “囧” before, do not start now…you are nearly five years OUT.
IIt is true that Internet memes come and go, but the frequency that they appear and their intensity says something about the almost schizophrenic mind-set of Chinese consumers.
Take 旭日阳光 (xu ri yang guang) for instance. Two migrant workers catapult to fame after a self-made video of them singing during a drinking session went viral. Such was their popularity that in a matter of two months, they were invited to perform at China’s annual state-run Spring Festival Gala in 2011, broadcast to almost half of China’s TV watching population.
China’s fast-moving attention span is not limited to the online, but also in the retail market. Consumers are often on the lookout for new product innovations and new brands in which to engage with. Rather than staying with a single, trusted brand, the average Chinese shopper is now choosing from three to five brands in almost any product category. Brand loyalty, it seems, is not exactly the ‘in’ thing.
This lack of brand loyalty places undue pressure on brands to constantly come up with new communications ideas or product innovations at high frequencies posing challenges for businesses and brands in China. In China’s food sector, rarely do one or two key product flavors lines the shelves. One example is Lyfen (来伊份), a pick and mix snack chain who is endlessly updating their product mix and store variety.
This circle of fleeting obsession is also fuelled by national media – where we hear about new places to go, new restaurants to try, new fashion and also new ‘consumer trends’ – Shanghai Daily throws up a new Chinese buzzword everyday. We hear about new, emergent groups of consumers on a weekly basis – from ‘ant-tribes’, to ‘card slaves’ (卡奴 ka nu) and ‘herbivore men’ (食草男 caoshinan) – its as if society, like China’s obsession with growth is never standing still long enough to linger on one sociological trend.
Leading micro-blogging site, Sina Weibo and its high impact influence on all levels of society also plays a massive role in the permeation of fleeting obsessions. The Sina Weibo platform encourages competition amongst users to share the latest photo, weibo an intriguing, attention grabbing news story. Successful sharers are awarded badges for their high volume activity, while aspiring users are reminded when they haven’t updated in a while.
Establishing Roots in China
Arguably, this fleeting obsession phenomenon is uniquely situated in China – a country, which not long ago was known for its homogeneity and anti-materialistic views. Decades of modern consumerism have highlighted the potential for individuals to be different. There is a widespread sense that there’s a lot of ‘catching up’ to do, not just within China, but also with the rest of the world. To the extent that living in the ‘comfort zone’ - staying with the same brand or same product - may make a loyalist feel traditional, conservative, stoic and not moving with the times rather than being discerning or secure in their preferences.
The dual dimensions of obsession operate in a kind of hyper-action in China. Fleeting obsessions are both intrusive; continually forced into people’s minds, and compulsive; in response to anxiety about the world.
While fast fortunes are certainly being made from this dynamic, sustainable business strategy in China demands more foundational brand building. To break the vicious circle of fleeting obsessions, marketers should moderate the pushing of new SKUs, and emphasize the showcasing of a brand lifestyle in China.
Luxury brands in particular need to put down roots for their shiny leaves here. Simply claiming premium status and banking on celebrity endorsements is unlikely to maintain growth as the luxury market quickly matures. Maturing Chinese luxury consumers are looking past the ‘bling’ and want to know more about the brand’s design story and creative direction presenting an opportunity for all brands to share narratives, illustrate lifestyle and create branded ecosystems. Louis Vuitton has recently tapped into this by launching its ‘Art of Travel’ campaign in China emphasizing a travel-filled lifestyle. This is capitalizing on not only current fascination with global travel, but also one that has deep resonance. (China has long recognized the value of travel. It’s often said that the benefits of travel outweigh book knowledge: ‘One learns more by travelling ten thousand miles than reading ten thousand books’ / 读万卷书不如行万里路). By using its heritage of travel to match deeper culture points within China, it goes beyond fleeting obsessions and ensures people will be involved in ‘living out’ the essence of travel that’s uniquely Louis Vuitton.
By offering brand depth, conversation-starters, and a focused, yet highly curated product range, brands can offer a lasting and consistent offering in China, perhaps long enough for shoppers to build loyalty and become obsessive over your products.
The alternative? Let China’s culture of fleeting obsessions quickly turn your brand into a fad.
Joey Dembs is obsessed with speed. Not the drug, nor the physical thrill of moving fast; he just wants things (like, everything) to happen instantly, efficiently, and fast. He doesn't want to cook, he doesn't want to wait for a download, the bus is too slow – He’s not growing up fast enough. A lack of patience defines his obsession.
Cultivating the Obsession of a Generation
Tumblr is home to 80 million blogs and 35.7 BILLION posts as of November 2012.
Half of Tumblr’s users are under 25 years old.
A time capsule?
A treasure chest?
All of the above.
Why is Tumblr the perfect vehicle for Millennial obsession? As DJ, producer, stylist and writer Josh Madden states, “Tumblr allows every facet of an obsession to be consumed.”
Tumblr is obsessed, obsessive and obsessable.
Tumblr is obsessed. The genesis and evolution of Tumblr is rooted in being obsessed. Founder David Karp says Tumblr came to being because of his desire for an unintimidating platform for expression and a constant “striving towards perfection." The all-consuming passion of the company resonates with the Millennial ethos of authenticity, connection and creator culture.
Tumblr is obsessive. Their call to action revolves around constant updates, reblogs, and likes which all serve to nourish and cultivate an ongoing “FOMO”. To be successful on Tumblr as both a follower and followed takes time and constant engagement. Without attention, a Tumblr can die a quick death. Or just fail to leave the ground.
Tumblr is obsessable. With an interface that effortlessly creates a common language of expression, it boils the overwhelming wealth of information accessible at the click of a mouse down to a simpler taxonomy: text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, video. Ultimately, this shared lexicon creates a magnet for content that generates community and sparks cultural movements for and about this ‘always on’ generation in just a couple of easy steps.
At its core, Tumblr is a master of the cultural discourse of collecting. Collecting followers, interests, expertise. By giving form and organization to the Internet - an otherwise vast, intangible entity, Tumblr marries the behavior of collecting, associated with concrete items to help build the aspects central to the development and building one’s identity.
Tumblr: Obsession with the Self?
Tumblr is the perfect medium for Millennials, a generation that MTV Insights says is fueled by “slashitude” and “lifehacks”. According to Daniel de Lara, of the digital agency knowuse.com, asiandan.com and lememe.com, Tumblr helps streamline aspirations for one’s identity by turning “an individual into a collage. A person is simplified into the .jpegs and .gifs that they post in hopes to provide a snapshot of their personality.” Identity gets codified into an aesthetic vocabulary with archetypal sets that one can mix and match to project the self of the moment.
As an outlet and inspiration, and a mirror and an agent, Tumblr inspires a tension between safety and liberation for Millennial identities in a time of private and public experimentation with the fluidity of self. Will Wheeler, Digital Media Director of Paper Magazine believes that “Tumblr provides the ideal outlet to feed obsession through self-expression - it enables an unabashed, voyeuristic communication with others. "This is who I am in the way I want you to see me." is also something that's widely accepted in the Tumblrsphere.”
Tumblr in the Modern Age of Obsession
At first blush, Tumblr may appear to be counter to traditional perceptions of obsession.
If obsession is about expertise - careful curation and developed detail, then Tumblr democratizes the act of obsession. There is no knowledge threshold to be active on Tumblr and to be a leader with many 'followers' you don't have to start with a depth of knowledge. Tumblrs pop up on a daily basis because you can start off dabbling in something simply because you think it looks cool, and the obsession can escalate from there.
If obsession is about projection of taste, Tumblr legitimizes and socializes through a feedback loop. According to Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of class distinction, taste was defined by those in power. Class was the traditional driver to the dominant tastes, but with the democratization that came with the Interwebs, taste can come from anyone. Tumblr’s inherently social component connects you to other obsessives, therefore magnifying and amplifying your obsession.
However, if modern obsession is about bricolage, depth of understanding is amassed through breadth of knowledge. In a sort of meta way of making sense of the vast frontier of obsessables, Tumblr-ites have created a world where there is a F*ck Yeah Tumblr dedicated to almost anything and everything, and even a Tumblr dedicated to organizing all the F*ck Yeah Tumblrs .
By facilitating, proving and driving obsession on multiple dimensions, Tumblr resonates deeply with the many facets of Millennial obsessions through:
The Modern Roadshow: bringing collections out of your closet/from under your bed to connect with those just as obsessive as you, or convert new ones http://thingsorganizedneatly.tumblr.com/, http://kicksoncards.tumblr.com/
From the most niched and specific blogs to those that are simply just visually striking or connect with the human spirit, Tumblr continually challenges and asks who the real obsessives are, while empowering discovery of new obsessions in the language of Millennials.
Tumblr has clearly captured the zeitgeist of the Millennial generation. Why does this matter for us?
What can we learn about the 'language' of Millennial communication? How can we engage with their obsessions with themselves and their identities?
How can Tumblr help us dimensionalize what being 'always on' actually looks and feels like for a Millennial?
How can a brand 'Tumblr-fy' themselves? How can they meaningfully engage in this feedback loop of self-expression?
What is the next vehicle for this obsessive fascination with the world and one's place within?
Dee de Lara is an staunch believer that the best camera is the one you have with you. Hence, her current obsession with Instagram and documenting everything she sees and eats.
Ever since its rise to global prominence in the late 20th Century, there’s been a global obsession with modern Japan, especially in Europe and the US. Or should we say, an obsession with a particular vision of Japan – of over-worked salarymen sleeping in capsule hotels, video-game & manga crazed youths, fetish cafés staffed by women in costume, and wondrous vending machines. From Sofia Coppola’s (in)famous film ‘Lost in Translation’, the BBC documentary ‘Japanorama’, or Canadian comedian Tom Green’s painfully cruel ‘Subway Monkey Hour’, Western media have made sure that Japan, in the eyes of mainstream audiences, remains a place of odd conventions, unshapely living spaces and hysterical TV presenters.
Redefining our Obsession with Japan
Of course, there’s no smoke without fire, and Japan is certainly home to some unique and extreme pastimes. Otaku culture (anime/manga obsessed geekdom) exists here on a mind-blowing scale. And the Japanese love of bizarre gameshows can be fascinating, if not downright hilarious – a quick YouTube search for ‘Japanese toilet pranks’ will tell you everything you need to know.
However, being overly ‘obsessed’ with this quirky side of life in Japan does a great disservice to the far more diverse and exciting realities of life here. It’s a myopic obsession, driven by titillation, and at worst ethnocentrism.
When we at Flamingo Tokyo think about ‘obsession’ in Japan, we’re taken to places far from these otaku portrayals. We’re taken to the coffee shop and the whiskey bar, the denim specialist, the sweatshirt weaver and the shoe cobbler. Trades & industries that – outside of those in the know – Japan is not necessarily well known or appreciated for.
What all these businesses have in common is the Japanese obsession with mastery. They’re all rooted in a culture of studying and learning, patience and detail, of doing something to one’s very best ability.
The dedication and meticulousness of these bartenders, baristas and shopkeepers is contagious. They create customer bases that share their passions and curiosities. They attract and nurture repeat customers who share their obsessions.
Businesses that tap into this obsession with mastery connect powerfully with the hearts and minds of Japanese consumers. For marketers in Japan, there’s much we can learn.
The Quest for Perfection
Omotesando Koffee (OK) is a coffee shop four kilometers from the Flamingo Tokyo office and within spitting distance of one of Japan’s most famous streets (Omotesando) - home to the country’s flagship stores of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior, Comme Des Garcons and many more. Despite its location, OK is quiet, in both style and atmosphere. Built into the downstairs of a traditional wooden Japanese house, there is room only for a couple of customers to stand – OK’s website describes it as a ‘takeout coffee shop’. Eiichi Kunitomo founded OK with 10 years of barista experience, a chunk of which was spent in Southern Italy, which he felt to be the place to truly learn about coffee. The menu at OK reflects Kunitomo’s focus on his core product. Espresso, Double Espresso, Macchiato, Latte, Cappuccino…Plus one food offering: a miniature baked custard cube. No sandwiches, no baskets of pastries, no tea, no syrups. No agonizing over customization options. OK doesn’t aim to please everyone. It simply aims to master the very best coffee experience.
This form of obsession is not the preserve of establishments as petit as OK. Loopwheeler is a sweatshirt and t-shirt maker, based in Tokyo with stores in the capital (East Japan), Osaka (West) and Fukuoka (South). Loopwheeler was founded in 1999, with the philosophy of providing “The world’s best, traditional sweatshirts.” Despite it’s flourishing popularity – you can now get your hands on Loopwheeler in London’s Selfridges and Colette in Paris; collaborators in recent years include global giants, Nike and Clarks, and the ridiculously hip Japanese architecture practice, Wonderwall – Loopwheeler has maintained its original manufacturing processes. The company weaves its produce on ‘loop wheeler’ machines, which produce a meter of fabric per hour, or in one day enough material for seven or eight hoodies. Decades old, the machines are around 30 times slower than modern, mainstream options. Despite the collaborations and the worldview, Loopwheeler’s range remains refreshingly tight. They don’t do shirts, jeans and scented candles. They do the best sweatshirts.
There’s a huge opportunity in Japan for brands that can sate the consumer desire for products – and brand mythologies – which embrace the idea of mastery.
Customers want to learn everything there is to learn about a product. They want to understand what happens when you mix whiskey and ice with a certain technique. To explore the intricate taste differences in drip-filtered coffee, and how a region’s water quality affects its denim manufacturing. There is a desire to be educated, by brands and their staff, on what they are buying into.
Customers are on the look out for brands with depth. Brands that embrace the pursuit of mastery. Brands that wear their concern and determination on their sleeves.
Brands should look at Japan not as a market of incomprehensible fads, wacky behaviours and unassailable cultural differences. Brands should look at Japan as a market where the customer is smart, wants to be educated, and wants to be a fan of your mastery.
For brands that want obsessive fan bases in Japan, being obsessive is the answer.
Andy Connor has three obsessions in life: stand-up comedy, mountains, and his beloved Everton FC. Japanese sherry-cask whisky is about to become the fourth.
Gareth Evans is currently obsessed with a color of cotton jersey: grey marl. And a comforting drink: hot water (no lemon).
A lot of the brands we engage with everyday can come across as obsessive. Their offers can be about making us lose weight, driving fast cars, travelling the world in comfort or buying cheap furniture. Their product offerings are typically supported by powerful advertising claims. Fine. But is it the result of a real, powerful obsession driving the business, or merely a stance made to benefit from the latest trends? The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
Only a few brands have actually engraved into their DNA an ambition, a vision that is so powerful that it becomes an obsession, their obsession. An even fewer number of brands have put their business models at risk in order to remain true to their core values. We believe Amazon is one of them.
Amazon is a company that is obsessed, driven by such a powerful inner force that it is ready to make bold decisions that can impact the future of its business. And that is the result of an amazing obsession, as claimed in their mission statement: “Amazon aims to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices”.
The most interesting part of that statement may not be around the low-price claim – something pretty much all retailers in the world, from Wal-Mart to Ikea, have also included in their company vision. Rather, it is about being the most customer-centric business in the world. That is brave, as it implies the desire to permanently redefine what is sold, how it is packaged, how it is shipped, and how a good after-sale experience is ensured.
“To be The Earth’s most customer centric company”
Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, made this statement when he launched the company in 1995. You could argue that Amazon has stayed true to this claim and has literally paid the price for it. It took Amazon 7 years to generate a strikethrough profit, and an additional 3 years to be consistently profitable. Financial analysts in 2001 were anticipating that “the company would run out of cash or go under before breaking even”.
So, since its IPO in 1997 – which gave Amazon access to greater funds to invest in warehouses, picking systems, smart algorithms (to facilitate the ‘recommend’ function) – Bezos has remained obsessed and has consistently made the case to shareholders that he is here for the long-term, that they should trust him, and that investments will pay off in the long run. So how does he do it?
Following ‘obsession’ with action
Building from that obsession with consumers, Amazon continues to redefine its product offering and its business model in general; by doing so it provokes circumspect reactions from investors. As a recent article in the FT puts it, “Mr. Bezos set the vision behind big bets that have baffled Wall Street, such as opening Amazon’s website to rival retailers, creating the Kindle eReader that cannibalized its print book sales, and moving away sideways from cloud computing”. By including competitors’ offers into its own, Amazon remained true to its historical belief, and continued to add pressure on its rivals.
Amazon now offers fresh groceries on its website, a completely different supply chain from the one it learnt to master over the years. Whilst still not price competitive compared with the online offering of large grocers, it is planting the seeds for future growth.
It is ready to sell its Kindle and Kindle Fire at a loss (or breakeven at best), in order to generate the right exposure and returns from related eBook sales. This is a complete new profit generator for the company that it still needs to assimilate: profits in Q4 2011 (the first full quarter of sales after the launch of Fire) declined 58% year-over-year. But more institutions are jumping on the Kindle bandwagon: the US State Department represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Amazon have signed a partnership to launch the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative, aimed at introducing aspects of US society and culture directly to young people around the world. On a slightly different scale, a Newcastle-based hotel in the UK is trialing Kindle replacements to printed versions of the Bible.
Amazon has so much faith in its Kindle offer it is planning a market entry strategy based solely around its Kindle and eBooks offering. No physical delivery will be available, challenging the historical model we all know Amazon for.
Finally, rumors have been growing constantly about Amazon entering the smartphone world, and it is anticipated that it will launch its Kindle Phone in the final months of 2012.
All of this is part of their ongoing drive to remain close to their customers – the defining feature of their business. And that is a real obsession. It is not the only company that is so driven, of course, but it seems that only a handful of big businesses have been able to be as consistent in their ‘obsession’ as Amazon.
A profitable obsession
As stated earlier, Amazon’s profit generation has been inconsistent and was hard to come in its early days. But it seems that the wheel has now fully turned, and that investors are ready to embark on the Amazon philosophy.
As this chart shows, Amazon’s share price is only now showing significant growth, increasing 55% in 2012, a trend that started less than 18 months ago – that’s very recent for a business that has been traded on Wall Street for 15 years now! Maybe that will offer some reassurance to buyers of Facebook shares.
Obsession can deliver, but only in the long run. It is not a short fling. Obsession has less to do with money. It is a long-term belief, almost a mystical one, where a key figure acts through God-like gestures: think Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Sam Walton, Yves Saint Laurent…and Jeff Bezos.
Vincent Verdier is obsessed with finding the best restaurant in the world. Across continents, he goes on and tries food, new recipes, eating with his fingers, a straw or a hammer. His current favorite is in Sweden, but he's already obsessed with finding the next one.
A Nation Obsessed
In the past half century, Kung Fu has worked itself into the fabric of American popular culture. Yet, Kung Fu’s influence on American society has done more than just change the way we understand hand-to-hand combat; through its presentation on the big screen, Kung Fu has redefined the American action hero by offering an alternative version of masculinity.
Our obsession with Kung Fu reflects an obsession with a new kind of masculinity – one influenced as much by the wisdom of the East as the physicality & power of the West.
Kung Fu’s popularity in American culture is no small part due to its Chinese origins. For decades, China has largely been seen in American popular culture as an ‘approachable other’. It is a country that is quite literally on the other side of the world. Resolutely foreign, it is often defined by its difference to America and the West rather than its similarities. As such, Chinese products, ideas, and teachings have always been ‘exotic’ in the US. Still, the influx of Chinese immigrants to America and the sheer size of China itself have made China the ‘Every Asia’ – an approachable exemplar of Asian culture. As a result, Americans can easily understand Kung Fu as something that is both exotic and familiar.
The Chinese origins of Kung Fu also tie heavily to a sense of history. It is understood as an ancient form of fighting passed down from master to student. As an art form, it walks a line between combat style, philosophy, and religion. This means Kung Fu is inherently as much about thought, dedication, and wisdom as it is about fighting.
For an American, whose cultural understanding of fighting is heavily rooted in the Military Industrial Complex, this represents a sharp contrast. Kung Fu is not about building things bigger, faster, and more powerful; rather, it is about strength from within. Nowhere is this contrast clearer than in the presentation of action heroes on the big screen.
From Tombstone to Top Gun, American action heroes have typically been shaped by the military industrial zeitgeist. Characters such as James Bond and John McClane are modern day gunslingers – perfect combinations of mechanical know-how and testosterone – able to operate any car, plane, or gun that they come across. And perhaps few epitomize the dominant American action hero better than Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood.
However, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and others offer an alternative to this military industrial action hero. If Rambo is a veritable MacGyver of solid unemotional testosterone, then Lee is the opposite – a small and nimble figure taking down the bad guys not with guns or machines, but with his own internal strength. Lee and others are masculine not because they can drive fast, shoot a gun, and look like a solid piece of stone, but rather because they posses a deep internal strength. This ‘less-is-more’ approach to masculinity means that feats such as Bruce Lee knocking a man over with just two fingers or taking down 100 men with a broom handle are more impressive than any big explosion.
This internally focused version of masculinity opens up a reality where anyone can be a Kung Fu action hero. There is an inherent Karate Kid nature to this ‘Kung Fu masculinity’, where you don’t need to look like Schwarzenegger or drive a car like Vin Diesel, you just need internal strength and a little bit of discipline.
‘Board-Breaking’ for Brands
For brands, this can be a powerful strategic starting point. Not only does Kung Fu present an alternative to the ‘military-industrial’ understanding of masculinity that has become such a cliché in the US, but it also presents a version that is easier to emulate. ‘Kung Fu masculinity’ is not just about the aspirational – instead it inherently promises that anyone can be a ‘man’.
While some brands have begun to capitalize on these codes of masculinity, including Nike’s Bruce Lee themed shoes and Heineken’s ad ‘The Entrance’ to name a few. Kung Fu still represents a differentiated way of talking about what it means to be a Man. Also, given that Kung Fu is quickly becoming a part of almost every action movie (e.g. The Expendables) and fighting style (e.g. MMA), it might be an increasingly relevant way to communicate an alternative – and highly relevant – masculinity to this kung-fu-obsessed country.
Made difficult by a good sense of direction, Zach Safford is currently obsessed with biking out to the far reaches of a city and trying to get himself lost.
an abnormal condition of the body, characterized by undue rise in temperature, quickening of the pulse, and disturbance of various body functions.
Fever is the regulation of body temperature at an elevated ‘set’ point. Contact with pathogens will result in the release of a small protein from white blood cells. This protein circulates to the brain where it raises temperature.
ordinary boy, teenager, and talented musician, characterized by YouTube sensation turned mega superstar.
Born in Canada, Justin Bieber was raised by his mother and grandparents with whom he lived a ‘normal’ life. It wasn’t until his noteworthy participation in a local singing competition that things began to change. His performance made it to YouTube where he successfully turned the heads of all the right people, creating his path to global superstardom.
all consuming fascination with justin bieber, characterized by many as a national OBSESSION.
With over 2 million followers on Twitter, sold out world tours, and a constant gaggle of teenyboppers by his side, Justin Bieber has wholeheartedly planted himself in the lives of all of his ‘Beliebers’. Keeping in line with the viral YouTube video that started it all, Bieber has successfully latched on to his fans, and spread, transforming himself and his creations as time progresses – just like a virus.
Viruses are infectious agents that can only replicate inside the living cells of an organism, and have 2 parts – DNA and a protective protein coat. The first defines the core of the being, while the second keeps the DNA safe, allowing it to flourish.
Bieber Fever’s DNA
Bieber is authentic.
He is the ‘normal’ kid who never gave up, who simply owns who he is. Talented singer? Check. Mega superstar? Check. 18-year-old boy who is just a teen? Check and check. To the young Millennials who lifted Bieber on their figurative shoulders, he is 100% ‘real’.
Bieber is responsible.
He does his part with his fans and the people who need him. He hasn’t forgotten those who helped him get where he is, and continues to pay that forward. He always recognizes that his fans are a huge part of his success.
Bieber knows how to utilize the online domain.
Having grown up in the world of technology and social media, he has successfully curated his online persona to fit seamlessly with his real life personality.
Bieber Fever’s Protective Coat
Bieber is continuously progressing.
Just as a virus mutates as it moves throughout the body, Bieber evolves as an artist and moves forward with his fans. The hospitable environment he has supplanted himself in (that of his fans) allows him to cultivate, multiply, and spread, transforming as he moves along. Bieber remains appropriate for his fan base, growing up himself as his followers grow up with him. Consistently coming up with a new idea, a new look, or a new collaboration, Bieber is constantly evolving, successfully dodging the ‘white blood cells’ that are out to halt his virus from spreading.
progressive and evolutionary, characterized by unrelenting irresistibility.
As his virus spreads, Bieber continues to impose himself upon the world, infecting everyone around him. Followers are inhabited by the Bieber virus, which eventually makes its way to the brain and raises the body’s temperature, creating an unstoppable fever. Fast moving, exciting, and slightly out of the ordinary, it feels like a rush. Ultimately, ‘Bieber Fever’ refuses to come and go, instead becoming an undeniable and inherent part of every ‘Belieber’ being.
American Physiological Society
Michelle Katz is currently obsessed with frozen yogurt, more amiably referred to as fro-yo. No matter where she is, she miraculously ends up at one of her favorite fro-yo hot spots where she can pick her flavors and add on toppings galore — the result: pure deliciousness.
A national obsession
As a Singaporean, I cannot deny that shopping and eating are our two favorite pastimes. A location guide cites over 270 shopping malls on this island. As for food outlets, let’s just say, you will never starve in Singapore!
Despite boasting countless shopping malls and food outlets, it is still a common sight to find long queues in these places. When a queue is formed, there’s a lot of attention, commotion and energy around it. People will either be enticed into joining the queue, or be puzzled as to what brought about the crowd. I have been through both.
A queue suggests what you are queuing up for must be ‘good’, which can mean a lot of things: something new, special, or value for money.
Real examples of obsessive queuing
In the shopping arena…
New fashion brands bring a lot of excitement into town. A fine example is the day Abercrombie & Fitch opened and attracted a mass crowd on Orchard Road. It will suffice to say there was a lot of hype – mostly attributed to the very well bodied, good looking and half-naked sales assistants.
When there is a sale, the queues become outrageous. During the Great Singapore Sale, various brands will organize warehouse sales, which attract a huge crowd to the sales venue. People will queue to get into the venue, queue to try on the apparels and then queue again to pay for their purchases! And let’s not forget the determination and patience needed to push through the crowd!
In the food arena…
On a daily basis, people will spend half their lunchtime queuing up for a bowl of noodles in a non-air-conditioned hawker centre. At Maxwell food centre, it takes about 30 minutes to queue for a bowl of fish slice soup or a plate of Hainanese Chicken Rice.
To demonstrate the obsession with queuing for food further, a local Chinese TV show (排排站，查查看) was dedicated to featuring food outlets that attract queues. The shows hosts would trawl through food outlets that attract the longest queues to validate if the waiting time is justified! Here’s one episode where the hosts visited a popular food stall. People were willing to queue and wait for over 30 minutes for a bowl of noodles.
Why is this happening in Singapore?
1. Kiasuism (a Singlish term referring to the act of kiasu where one is afraid of losing out)
This doesn’t come as a surprise. Kiasuism has been a classic characteristic of Singaporeans. To avoid losing out on the perceived ‘goodness’, people will join a queue so that they too can enjoy this ‘goodness’. This would equally be applicable to anything that has talk-ability.
We have established that a queue implies what you are queuing up for is worth your time and effort. However, what really indicates that it is going to be worthwhile is the action mirrored by other people, i.e. safety in numbers. This not only provides much needed assurance but also re-affirms that ‘my decision is right’ and thus minimizes any dissonance.
For decades, Singaporeans have been educated and conditioned to abide by the laws and regulations of the land, so we listen, follow and conduct our behavior accordingly to a set of ideas. This has created a ‘follower’ mentality, which makes conforming to the crowd’s ideas a rather comfortable and natural thing to do. So if people are queuing up, then why not me?
What does it take to master the art of queuing?
It is important to note that of course it is not just about creating a queue and making consumers wait. What is crucial is creating, maintaining and expanding that differentiating factor that attracts people.
1. Point of Differentiation
To be honest, in a fashion sense, how different is Abercrombie & Fitch from other fast fashion brands like Topshop, H&M and Forever 21? The design and quality of the clothes are arguably not that different. What is really luring people to the store are the sales assistants, the imagery that A&F is creating, and the sensational excitement of visiting a highly sensual retail space. People want to be the first to gain the A&F retail experience or be able to say that they have visited the A&F store.
Do something that stands out. Be bold. Be remembered. Be lusted after.
2. Strong Brand Heritage
While buying and eating BBQ pork is a tradition in Singapore during the Chinese New Year season, brands need to build a strong link to the tradition. Both Lim Chee Guan and Bee Cheng Hiang have done this really well as they are well known for their heritage in delivering consistent taste and quality that suits the local palette. When there is consistency, people are assured that their choice is right.
Be consistent and remain relevant in people’s lives.
3. Exclusive Quality aka ‘In-House Secret’
The scarcity will trigger the kiasuism in people i.e. placing the brand and products in the speciality category. This can be as simple as doing things differently; for example, soup base that is brewed for hours, chicken rice that is cooked with an undisclosed secret recipe, etc. It really is about delivering a unique flavour, creating an in-house specialty.
Be special and be the best with your own signature style. Build the anticipation and expectation. Do it well, do it big.
If a queue can be used to represent the lifeline of a brand, then it will be important to keep it alive. If a queue is creating irregular fireworks, it will not grow into a bonfire. We need strong and regular fireworks to build a bonfire that lasts.
At the end of the day, it is people that form the queue, which ultimately bring life and business to the brand.
Calin Chua has a soft spot for leggings and stockings, especially those that look a bit outrageous. She may not wear them all the time but she just likes to own them and look at them. In a few month's time, I will be spreading this obsession by selling them (new ones of course!).
Photos by Elly Chiu
Jiro – A Man Obsessed
When Jiro forms a finger of rice in his hands, he means business. Jiro has been an Itamae 板前 for close to 75 years, crafting the finest sushi known to man in a little counter-bar like restaurant at the bottom of some underground station in central Tokyo. His fastidious obsession for sushi perfection is wholly on a different level. Here, the guest might be king, but Jiro is emperor. He decides what the customer will eat, in which order, and most importantly, at what time intervals – it is not unheard of to find customers being served their piece of honeydew melon (the customary dessert to end the meal) only 20 minutes after being seated. At a price point of $350 per person, this all seems on the brink of the ridiculous, but Jiro’s obsession for perfection in singularity is a sight to behold. So much so that he became the first sushi chef to be awarded 3 Michelin stars when the guide first came to Japan, and is the subject of a documentary entitled ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ (2011). Many of the world’s most famous chefs journey to Jiro for inspiration, with Joël Robuchon himself speaking of him as the greatest sushi chef who has ever lived.
Jiro is more than just an extreme case of perfectionism; he is the embodiment of a culture that obsesses about food more than anywhere else. Could this spectacle have emerged in the streets of Dubai, Rio, or even the epicure capital Paris? We think not.
The Emergence of the Cult of Food
Contrary to popular belief, Japan hasn't always stood at the pinnacle of food refinement. Whilst the imperial court might have enjoyed season-inspired delicacies for millennia, the court’s tastes did not mix with that of the normal people. Food for commoners was more of a bland affair of rice porridge with accompanying fish. However, with the advent of proper roads and infrastructure connecting the country from as early back as the 9th century, trade between the different areas of Japan flourished. At the same time, it became customary for regions to send their food first as tribute to the imperial court, and later to the courts of the many regional military leaders.
With time, these areas started focusing and refining on one or two particular food items that naturally did very well. Local produce soon became a destination in and of itself. People would travel far for famous dishes or ingredients – from eel caught in Shizuoka to rice grown in Niigata. These Meibutsu 名物 (regional specialties, literally ‘famed goods’) cemented divergent regional identities and created new ‘myths’ surrounding the character of a people pertaining to the food they eat. (For example, to this day, Kyushu, renowned for its love of all things meat, is depicted as the place in Japan to find burly hairy men.)
But perhaps the single largest change in the make up of Japan after the 9th century was the emergence of a kind of middle class that prospered at the heels of the shogunate. This new class adopted many of the customs of the nobility – and food was no exception. By the 16th century, you could only be deemed a cultured man if you were also an epicurean. Understanding food meant that you understood the nuances of human interaction, craftsmanship, and most importantly nature itself – simply put, knowing food was equal to knowing how to be “Japanese”.
Continuing the Obsession into the 21st century
Just as sushi had once been merely a snack enjoyed by fisherman and roadside snack bars – eaten without any curtsy to the craft, and later raised to the pinnacle of gourmet pleasure through generations of Jiro-like perfectionists – so too are some surprising new additions coming to the foreground in food obsessed Japan. A whole host of unlikely dishes like karaage (fried chicken), ramen (noodle soup), gyouza (fried dumplings), and even hamburgers are slowly becoming the hot topic of foodie circles. Jokingly coined B-kyu Gurume B級グルメ (B-rank Gourmet) in 1985 by journalist Ryuji Tazawa, as the antithesis to haute cuisine’s spindling obsession with high prices and small portions, the word has gained momentum in the last 10 years. These dishes have since been lifted from their grubby existence and made the target of a new kind of food obsession.
This growing interest in more ‘pedestrian’ dishes reflects a new kind of Japan. A Japan that longs for less fuss – food that is simply good without the complexity that traditional dishes bring with them, both in preparation and consumption. These foods are more social and ooze with nostalgia, but perhaps more interestingly, they exhibit a new awareness of a global space. All these dishes are clearly foreign in one way or another and nobody would claim otherwise, albeit aficionados would say that such dishes only achieved their current, unique, and tantalizing shape in Japan.
What these dishes have in common is a simple core idea – meat between two buns (and in some cases not even that!) is a burger, and deep-frying chicken is karaage. This opens the door for perfectionism is singularity a la Jiro – concentrating on how the cooking process can be refined to almost divine levels – whilst also allowing for reinterpretations to emerge, fostering regional patriotism for cooking styles and ingredients that embody the area. As such, for example, it wouldn't surprise anybody to hear that meat-loving Kyushu is also the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen – a noodle soup where the milky broth is made from pig’s bones.
No matter where you look, a real obsession for food permeates Japanese society. From highflying haute cuisine to B-kyu gurume, Japan doesn't just eat it, but talks about it, plays with it, celebrates it, and even ritualizes it. Throughout Japan’s history, the ubiquity of food in all matters of life, from high culture to low culture puts Japan in a foodie league all of its own. To the extent it can be said that, to understand Japan’s interaction with food is to understand Japan itself. So next time you are talking to a Japanese, look at their plate and ask them about it, you might be surprised what story you might uncover!
Apart from an obsession with retro kitsch and turn of the century architecture (the last one), Sven Palys also enjoys taking photos of unsuspecting sleeping salarymen on trains.
If we are to believe the legend, next May will mark the 140th anniversary of an historic event: the day blue jeans were invented. More specifically, the day Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis - a dry goods merchant and a tailor, respectively - obtained a U.S patent on the process of putting rivets in men’s work pants for the very first time.
Since that day blue jeans have become one of the most popular pieces of apparel on earth. According to Global Lifestyle Monitor, 31% of people across the globe own between 3 and 4 pairs, 29% own between 5 and 10 and in Brazil, 14% own a whopping 10 or more (2012). People across the globe wear jeans on average 3.5 days per week.
The UK is no exception; here jeans have made their way into the wardrobes of mums, uncles, brothers, nieces, next-door neighbors, flat mates, Priests, Rabbis, Sikhs, Catholics, prime ministers, taxi drivers… even the Queen wears them.
In moving from hard wearing work mans clothes to the wardrobe of almost every Brit in the UK, the symbolic meaning of blue jeans has also transformed. So what does it mean to wear generic blue jeans today? Crucially, what does this say about obsession, and what does this mean for brands?
In research spanning across the globe and published in his most recent book, anthropologist Danny Miller provides some food for thought on this matter. Put succinctly, Miller argues that reasons provided for wearing blue jeans often amount to ‘justifications’ rather than ‘truths’. ‘They’re good in the cold, they’re good in the heat, they’re good in the rain, they’re hard wearing, they’re good when you can’t get it together to wear anything else, they’re easy, they’re a safe bet’. In other words, everyday blue jeans are ‘go-to’ items. They match everything and are effortless. They do not speak of much at all. Not of class, of gender, of race, of age. They represent the unmarked. They represent homogeneity.
There is, then, a large group of British people that want them to signify the ordinary, not the extraordinary. Consumers who use their clothes to create a sense of anonymity - who are obsessed with blue jeans because they are obsessed with creating a sense of the norm. These are consumers obsessed with making order out of disorder. In short, consumers whose cultural DNA is to obsess about normalcy.
For multicultural Londoners, this has had a pronounced effect on how identity is now played out. Increasingly the tendency to assert individuality through grand themes like nationality are diminishing. (Explanations for this are vast and complex; in the case of nationality it could be the rise of second-generation kids, increasing ease of travel, the growing commonality of multi racial families, or a combination of all three). Whatever the reason, for a large majority of Londoners defining themselves in relation to national borders is no longer in vogue; ‘if I wanted to be Brazilian I would have stayed in Brazil’, a respondent explains to Miller (2012).
Instead people prefer to assert individuality through more subtle means such as the personalisation of national dishes. Put simply – and for the sake of continuity - rips from festivals, scars from mobile phones and diamantes jewels are a more common way to express identity than a pair of ‘statement trousers’, like capoeira pants.
In 2012 notions of identity are becoming more and more complex. Increasingly, people mix and match cultural peculiarities to suit their needs, invent and reinvent their heritage and display different parts of themselves in different situations. (You only have to look at how people layer their interactions on social media to see this in action; a person will be one thing on twitter and quite another on facebook). Identity is changing in Britain and we should think harder about how to facilitate that.
The next time you see an 8 foot model scantily clad in nothing more than a pair of indigo numbers and a push-up bra, just remember the everyday blue jean wearer: the cleaner, the builder, the dad, the uncle, the office worker, the waitress, the train driver, the me, the you, the average Joe. Ask yourself this: ‘why do they all wear blue jeans, why are they so obsessed?’
Answer yourself: ‘because blue jeans allow them to be ‘normal’ and ‘individual’ at the same time’. With that in mind, obsession does not seem niche, so irrational, so out-of the ordinary. Actually it seems the opposite; It seems like something that gives us order, allowing us to function in the world.
Abbie Wilson is obsessed with stories, story telling and story tellers and – having discovered him whilst living in New York – is addicted to David Sedaris' voice, describing it as 'auditory morphine'.
I still remember my early days of watching Manga. I remember Yingmu Huadao (Sakuragi Hanamichi), a character from the basketball story, Slam Dunk (灌篮高手). I remember Zhi Long (Shiryu), a character from the myth, Saint Seiya (聖鬥士星矢), and Luan Ma (Ranma Saotome), from the kongfu fighting, sex switching fiction, Ranma½.
When I was 12, I saved up every cent of pocket money to buy manga books, sometimes collecting an entire series. I watched the daily broadcast cartoons on Phoenix TV from 4:30 to 7:00pm, and owned thousands of stickers and little posters, which I traded and compared with friends between classes. My manga indulgency was an obsession.
You can say that I was just one child, but I wasn’t an isolated case. If you ask many of China’s current 20- or 30-somethings, their memories are undoubtedly similar to mine. This obsession took hold of many of us…
It was an interesting period in China. China’s Post-80s generation was now being called the “New New Generation”. This generation was the first generation to be spared political struggle or food shortages. The economy was growing in double digits. Overall quality of life was improving beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. The Post-80s was set to grow up with TVs and cars, they lived in newly built flats, they attended “experimental schools” (实验学校) and their parents were way too busy in this new economic climate to spend time with them and teach them about this new way of life.
China opened its doors to Japanese manga in the early 1990s when hundreds and thousands of Japanese manga books flooded China’s cultural landscape. They were beautifully drawn, with vivid, complex characters, but most importantly, they spoke in everyday language that everyone could relate to. Taiwanese and Hong Kongese publishing houses translated most manga in the early days into Chinese. TV channels also adopted and began broadcasting most of the famous manga TV cartoons. With such a strong back catalogue, local publishing houses often only needed to switch the language from Traditional Chinese to Simplified Chinese – and some pirated ones did not even bother to go to that length – often being sold illegally by local news agents or corner shops. Manga was an accessible obsession.
I always walked to and from school with other neighbourhood kids. I always woke up next to my grandmother rather than my parents. No one helped me to get dressed (even though I mostly wore a school uniform). My parents were too busy to cook, too busy to walk me to school, too busy to have dinner with me.
But there were perks to this childhood freedom. For example, I always had pocket money for snacks and instant noodles to buy after school when I was really hungry. Dinner was supposed to be between 4:30 and 7:00pm, but with no parents around, I was able to watch all of the channels that played cartoons at this time.
My school education was dominated with learning science, memorizing Chinese literature and preparing for exams. Learning about the ins and outs of life did not come from school – it came from Manga.
While my parents were taking advantage of the economic climate and pursuing the new Chinese dream, manga was my life teacher. Their storylines were extremely creative and imaginative, full of different kinds of characters from different walks of life. Each character carried with them a complex personality, a complicated relationship, and a struggle with social inequality and imbalanced hierarchy. Manga showed the realities of love, hate, loyalty, jealousy and dishonesty, just like it was in real-life.
In China, news and TV programs are subject to government censorship and concealment of topics and issues. However, with lower regulations towards animated TV programs and the popularity of online TV piracy, manga exploded in accessibility, watched and read by both children and adults. They were no longer just the post-school happy hour snacks, but rather an endless, vivid life bible where famous lines and lessons carried over into real life.
The 1990s is also a time when Japanese manga and animations grew and transformed with their audience. While early manga were full of magic and often geared towards younger audiences, time travel and bright, positive, happy characters, typified the styles of manga in the 1990s, evolving into something more real. They began to discuss the insecurity of and anxiety that one feels in a world of high technology and machinery; many stories used the modern city jungle as a backdrop to uncover human desire across all levels – from a simple crush to a sexual encounter, from personal success to world domination.
Later in this decade and into the 2000s, the rise of computer games and gaming technology meant more access and influence to fuel manga obsessions. And in only 15 years time, manga gaming has switched from Gameboys to iPads and PS3s.
As the Post-80s generation grew older with many now in their late 20s and early 30s they were thrust into the realities of life and having to muddle through a competitive work force and society. Many obsessed with manga, relating deeply with the characters in books and on screen, now lacked necessary interpersonal and social skills, preferring to stay home, spending hours and hours reading manga and playing games. The virtual world they created for themselves offered a sense of excitement and exploration they could control and were familiar with. This obsession comforted them.
As a once obsessive manga individual myself, it is vital and ever crucial in today’s society for brands to understand this cultural context of anime lovers. We have grown up in a fantastical and virtual world and now are unique consumers because of it.
Brands seeking to capitalize on this understanding can keep in the mind the following takeaways:
1. Brand communication that displays fluency in ACG culture has the power to tap into subtle and nostalgic memories of many within the Post-80s generation, even if they are not currently anime obsessives.
2. Reaching out within the ACG community through engagement marketing, utilizing digital tools such as online and mobile is the best way to communicate with this segment. Members of this segment are some of the most sharing and social netizens in China, thus WOM marketing should also not be discounted.
3. Anime obsessives are very dedicated and loyal with high expectations from their products. However, they are more sensitive and introverted than most mainstream consumers, meaning brands must treat them with careful respect.
Heng Lu is currently obsessed with not eating carbohydrates in the evening, and avoiding spicy food all together. It’s just some kind of belief that after the age of 28, his body will start to stock up the sugar and turn it into fat, and that's not good for his appearance and makes him looks like he lost control of his diet.
Mad over Korea
In the last few years, Hanryu (韩流), or the Korean Wave, has hit the shores of Asia and beyond. We see a real obsession with all things Korean – KBS is surely becoming a cable channel staple in hotels everywhere, housewives stay up late to catch their favourite Korean soaps, teenagers lap up pricey tickets for concerts of the K-pop band du jour (Big Bang, 2NE1, Super Junior, SNSD and more), and Korean food (previously one of the best underrated Asian cuisines, we think) can now be found aplenty in cities across Asia.
A History of Eastern Obsession
Obsession with a particular culture is not new. In the 1980s, there was the J-wave – a fascination with Japanese culture accompanying the country’s rising manufacturing prowess. Today, the terms ‘anime’ and ‘manga’ have become common everyday parlance.
Looking further back to the 19th century, the notion of ‘The Orient’, a reference for cultures East of Europe, emerged from an obsession by the Victorians. For them, the ‘East’ was the tantalizing opposite of the Victorian culture – where the Victorian lady was well-mannered, restrained and moral, the Orient woman was pictured as exotic, mysterious and sensual. This obsession has lived on today in films featuring mysterious ‘oriental’ characters (Goldfinger, Memoirs of a Geisha, Shanghai come to mind); even in fashion, Armani recently released a Year of the Dragon collection with dragon motifs embroidered on tee-shirts and underwear, whilst the Spring/Summer 2011 Louis Vuitton collection has been named ‘geisha haute couture’.
“Manufacturing” an Obsession: The Segyehwa policy
What distinguishes the obsession with Korean culture from the long-standing obsession with the Orient is that the latter was an externally imposed and Western notion, whereas Hanryu was decidedly a deliberate creation by the Korean government.
In 1994, after 30 years of heady domestic economic growth, the Korean government embarked on a globalization policy – the Segyehwa (世界化). The policy opened up Korea’s door to foreign investment, and also encouraged Korea-based companies to expand outwards.
More than that, the policy stressed the promotion of Korean culture and values – specifically it called for globalization underpinned by “Koreanisation”. In President Kim Young Sam’s words: ”Koreans cannot become global citizens without a good understanding of their own culture and tradition…Koreans should march out into the world on the strength of their unique culture and values.” (Kim, 1996, p.15) Arguably, Korea’s desire to protect its culture existed since its days as a Japanese colony, but it was only through Segyehwa that there was a real push for Koreans to assert their culture outside of Korea.
Whilst the terms ‘culture’ and ‘economics’ are often uneasy bedfellows in the lingo of civil servants everywhere, the Korean government didn’t shy away from thinking about export of culture in hard-nosed economic terms. In fact, after the spectacular performance of Jurassic Park (1993), The Presidential Advisory Board of Science and Technology of Korea made a bold statement equating the proceeds generated from the Spielberg film to the export revenue of 1.5 million Hyundai cars (Kim, 1994). This comparison to Korea’s economic pride underscores the need for the active promotion of the culture industry for economic reasons, and became the decisive factor in revolutionizing the approach to the media and culture industries (Shim, 2002).
The Kim Young Sam administration introduced different measures to promote the media and culture industry. They created the Culture Industry Bureau to take charge of the culture industry, replaced the Motion Picture Law with Film Promotion Law, and introduced the Film Promotion Fund as a public fund, pledging to contribute 10 billion won by 1996 (Joo, 2007). The subsequent Kim Dae Jung administration was even more aggressive, pledging to contribute 170 billon won to the Film Promotion Fund (Kim, 2005), establishing the Culture Industry Promotion Fund, and increasing funding to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (Joo, 2007).
What this eventually created was a vibrant and open industry that initially had the funding of the chaebols followed by venture companies, a revived industry with the injection of new life and young blood, and content that became readily consumed by audiences all over East Asia, including China, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Even though pop culture everywhere has an element of ‘manufactured-ness’, this process is taken to an extreme in Korea, where the content is calculated to work precisely with its target audiences.
In Korean pop music (K-pop), for example, we see that there is a clear formula. The casual listener surely can’t be faulted if he finds each boy band undistinguishable from the one that came just before. The look of all the bands seems to be manicured in exactly the same way, and the band itself would typically be a few members strong, with a leader as well as a maknae, the baby of the group. The bands undergo intense training to perfect their skills and when they are ready to debut, they release highly polished albums with catchy songs (with English catch phrases). There is also the backstory of how the band struggled through the years of training to be where they are today – often they are everyday individuals whose dream was to be successful, which they eventually were (Lee, 2012).
Beyond the look and the feel of the band, the content created tends to be something that mixes Korean cultural elements with regional and Western influences (Shin, 2005), and it is this “hybrid style” that makes it appealing and accessible to audiences (Chew, 2012). In K-pop hits, a few English catch phrases are consciously added to increase sing-ability amongst non-Korean speakers – a case in point is The Wondergirl’s catchy hit “Nobody” with the phrase “I want nobody, nobody but you”.
Putting artistic value aside, it is undoubtedly a formula that works. In 2011, Korean culture exports generated a total of 890 billion won, the highest overseas profit since to date (Kim, 2012). Hard numbers aside, the Korean wave also translates into soft power for South Korea in the global political arena. South Korea has leapt beyond its ranks as one of the four Asian tigers to position itself as a creative, innovative and self-assured nation.
Riding the Hanryu Wave
Hanryu certainly works in favour of Korean brands, whether in fashion, beauty, automobile or electronics. By relying on their provenance and riding on the current obsession with Korean culture, these brands gain massive positive equity far beyond a “Made in Korea” label. Face Shop, Hyundai, LG, Missha, and Samsung are just some of the brands enjoying this.
Very few brands are lucky enough to be in countries with distinct and powerful cultures. In that case, it benefits them to “steal” provenance from more established cultural phenomenon, essentially creating what Anholt (2002) terms as a “cuckoo brand”.
TWG Tea in Singapore is an excellent example of this. The entire brand experience leads consumers to believe that TWG Tea is a company of French origins that has been producing quality teas since 1837. However, the truth of the matter is that it is a recently established Singapore-based enterprise that sells teas sourced from all around the world. What the TWG business owners did was decidedly manufacture an “authentic” European look and feel to the brand and let consumers make their own assumptions and associations. They seem to be punching above their weight, creating a brand deemed credible enough to be sold even at Harrods in London.
Whilst the Hanryu story holds lessons for governments trying to promote overall country branding, this doesn’t mean brands on their own can’t do anything. Rather, brands need to consider how their provenance can help (or hinder) them – how can a brand best leverage any natural positive associations with its country of origin? Or, more pertinently for Asian brands from countries where there is no cultural push from the government, how can brands create cultural associations with other locations to build up a softer, more alluring image?
Scott Teng is currently obsessed with cooking because he loves being able to experiment with different ingredients and create something out of these ingredients. And with cooking comes sharing the meal with friends over wine, so that's another reason why!
Elly Chiu is currently obsessed with Google Reader. Having all the articles from her favorite websites in one place speaks to her deep need for order and efficiency – why didn't she discover this earlier?
Photo by Chloe Teng
The humble grilled cheese sandwich -- a classic American comfort food -- was known as ‘the cheese dream’ during the Great Depression. Since then, however, it has earned a place as a tasty, nostalgic but, decidedly of-the-daytime option.
Mass-produced white bread, Kraft single, a pat of butter and a hot surface were really all anyone ever needed to make it sufficiently delicious. While you can still find this staple in its traditional form at diners and greasy spoons, an new upscale, niche grilled cheese market has emerged and is still on the rise in America’s culinary capital. As the over 2.2 billion grilled cheese sandwiches consumed yearly will reflect, the writing on the wall is clear: America is obsessed with grilled cheese.
Re-inventing a ‘classic’
Today, this fascination with Grilled Cheese takes on many forms:
Little Muenster on the Lower East Side of New York City has dedicated its entire menu to ‘super fancy grilled cheese,’ selling about 200-300 grilled cheeses a weekday and twice that on the weekend. Michelin-star chefs are putting them on their menus; Chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per, Chef Harrison Keevil of Brookville Restaurant, Chef Terrance Brennan, Artisanal have all included the treat on their respective menus.
Furthermore, there is a national grilled cheese month, a national grilled cheese day, and for the past two years The ‘Big Cheesy’ Competition at Open House Gallery has hosted a virtual circus of grilled cheese vendors, all competing for the best grilled cheese in the City. It would appear that in the city that never sleeps, “cheese dreams” have made a come-back.
Obsessed with Grilled Cheese
So, what’s driving this obsession with grilled cheese?
To understand this, we need to look at several key characteristics that make this digital-digestible what it is. The three characteristics to consider are:
It’s simple: Tomato, bacon, truffle oil, duck confit – you can add just about anything you can imagine to the dish, but at the end of the day if it’s got two pieces of bread and melted cheese, it qualifies as a grilled cheese in the US. There are two simple, basic components that can’t be removed -- that’s as simple as cooking gets. It’s uncomplicated, straightforward, and absolutely unsophisticated.
Familiar: Regardless of where you’re from, how you were raised, if you were a kid in America, you had grilled cheese at some point… and likely have an almost-dogmatic perspective on quarters vs. halves, crust vs. no crust and others ways to ‘do’ grilled cheese the right way. It’s a staple of moms’ kitchens from coast-to-coast, and often an early first-go for children at preparing food themselves. It’s nostalgic, comfortable, and fundamentally unchallenging.
It’s nutritionally void: The three core ingredients of cheese, bread and butter neglect an important section of the food pyramid. Especially in today’s carbo-phobic, fat-conscious climate, grilled cheese represents an affront to the reigning dietary paradigm. It’s rich, decadent, and very, very bad for you…
Which all adds up to INDULGENCE…
The obsession with Grilled Cheese is a manifestation of a desire to push-back against our aspirational selves and embrace carnal pleasures – to give-in to our cravings and just do what feels good.
Despite our regular (and well-documented) failures, American strive for constant self-improvement. They want to see themselves as connoisseurs with complex palettes. They want to see themselves as adventurous, challenging themselves everyday to learn and try new things. And they want to see themselves as fundamentally healthy – bodies as temples with an eye towards their waistlines and appearances.
But perfection is tiresome, and life is about compromises. Grilled cheese represents an opportunity to bend ‘the rules’ of the aspirational self and just do what feels good.
Grilled cheese is unsophisticated, unchallenging, and unhealthy. And yet in the restaurants and food trucks of a world-class food city, it seems to be doing just that – with a dedicated following that wants desperately to take a momentary break from self-improvement. And here is where the obsession lies – our obsession with Grilled cheese is a momentary break from our obsession with being the best we can be, and an invitation to live in the now.
Ananda Eidelstein is currently obsessed with spinning! It's very challenging (especially when waking up at the crack of dawn), makes her feel really great and the jams make it fun. Can't stop, won't stop.
Modena-style Balsamic Vinegar. No olive oil necessary. Straight up. Michelle Santanocita’s obsession and love affair with balsamic vinegar began while studying abroad in Italy and they have been living in sin back here in the States ever since. Also please refer to Michelle Katz's bit on froyo. Drizzle that with some balsamic and you've created her ultimate obsession!
Obsessions tell part of the ‘human story’ that often falls to the wayside as rationality reigns.
Our passions and obsessions give meaning to our daily existence.
Obsessions give us a deeper understanding of the cultures in which we live.
Obsessions influence what and how we consume.
Obsessions shape the way we feel, act and buy.
Obsessions are fascinating in their vibrancy, humor, and pure ability to capture our attention.
Obsessions depart from the normal ‘rational’ patterns of behavior, and beg for a closer look.